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Richard Barbrook
Robert Adrian
John Perry Barlow


Robert Adrian
A contribution to the Memesis discussion.

It's pretty hard to swallow so much well-intentioned nostalgia in one gulp and even harder to get to grips with it. If Richard Barbrook's favourite target, John Perry Barlow, stands for the flower-toting California Hippies of yesteryear, Richard places himself squarely among their rock-throwing European contemporaries in the streets of Paris in May of '68. Nostalgia for the 60's-- nostalgia for the future which died under the political juggernaught of Reagan and Thatcher (and Mitterrand and Kohl).is something that John Perry and Richard (and many others of a certain generation, including myself) share -- even if the futures we envisioned are not exactly identical.

But the sad fact is that we have inherited the Thatcher/Reagan version of the future and it is intrinsically entwined with the (digital) communications technology which is now THE central theme of all social and political discourse in what used to be called the industrialised world.

What we have seen in the last 25 years (and especially since 1989) is the end of political and cultural pluralism. One dominant ideology prevails -- the ideology of (post-industrial) capitalism. This ideology is so pervasive that it has almost achieved transparency. That is: one hears otherwise intelligent people claiming that "ideology" is a meaningless word which should be struck from the vocabulary. This problem arose in the net-debate with J.P.Barlow who, like most U.S. Americans, cannot grasp the idea that there are people in the world with doubts about the U.S. Constitution, with its confusion of Liberty with Property, as a model for a World Government.

But to get to the point: Evolution is not a one-way street. That is the un-modernist thing about it. Evolution is not "progressive", nor does it have any kind of goal. Species or cultures -- or whatever -- survive, thrive, fail, vanish within the context of their adaptability. Many species have vanished because they were unable to adapt to their own success and expired in an exhausted environment. The question of fitness is not "how strong" but "how flexible". Immensely successful industrial countries like the DDR collapsed in the end because one-dimensional ideological rigidity did not allow them to adjust to their own success. There is no reason to suppose that one-dimensional capitalism will do much better. And here Richard's sermon on the virtues of the socialist ideal and the absurdities of capitalist memology are very pertinent -- be prepared.

A word about cable-lying and manpower: On average, the street in front of my house has been dug up for cable (or water- or gas-mains) laying every couple of years for the past 20 years. 20 years ago a team of 10 to 12 men would show up one morning and begin to break up the street with air hammers -- and the work lasted several weeks. Now a multi-purpose tractor arrives with 2 or 3 men and a little dump truck and they finish in a few days. This is called increased productivity -- less men = less man-hours = increased productivity (the machines don't count). Of course a lot of time is still spent in the manhole under the street by the engineer who sits splicing the cable and checking the electronics -- at least until the satellites replace the cables -- and the tractors, trucks and workers. The engineer will probably be around a bit longer.

 
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